5 ways screen time can benefit children and families

Research BriefFamiliesMar 14 2018

They’re everywhere. At home, in restaurants and parks, on the subway—wherever you look, you’re likely to see parents and young children interacting with digital media on smartphones or tablets. At least 38 percent of children under age two and 80 percent of two- to four-year-olds have used a mobile media device. While it may appear that digital media isolates family members from one another, can it (when used appropriately) also bring families together? Previous guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended no media exposure for children under two years of age, but the AAP released new guidelines for children ages zero to five in October 2016 that emphasize the importance of parents’ engagement with their children when using digital media.

The AAP recommends five ways for parents and young children to use media positively:

1Certain kinds of digital tools can support family interactions.

Using video chat (Skype, Facetime, etc.) allows family members to connect with one another when in-person interactions may not be possible. The AAP acknowledges that children younger than 18 months can use such video platforms alongside their parents to connect with family members.

2It’s important to support children’s healthy development through co-viewing and co-playing

Children as young as 18 months may be able to learn from digital media when co-viewing or co-playing with an engaged adult (although additional research is necessary to support this recommendation). It is important that parents answer and ask questions about the material they are co-viewing, point out important concepts, and blend the content they are viewing together into their daily lives and routines. By performing these actions, parents can create a structure to support children’s learning from digital material. Through dialogue and interactions, parents can encourage their child’s cognitive, linguistic, and social-emotional development even before their second birthday.

3Parents can choose high-quality digital content for their child’s viewing.

Promoting active engagement with high-quality material is essential for children from birth to age five, but it is also important to consider the interests and needs of individual children. Websites like Common Sense Media, PBS Kids, and Sesame Workshop can help parents decide which apps and programs are best for their children.

4Like physical tools, digital tools can promote school readiness

Family support for school readiness is found in traditional forms like book reading and newer technologies such as e-books. Whether a story is in print or digital format, parents can help children develop the skills they need for school by engaging in dialogic reading with their child—asking them questions about the stories and relating the content to the child’s life. Research suggests that preschoolers can learn best from well-designed e-books with limited distracting features (such as games and sounds), and when parents’ questions focus on the stories themselves rather than the features of the electronic medium (such as pushing buttons).

5Digital tools can support parent and child togetherness.

Technology can elicit exciting topics for conversation and encourage family members to spend time with one another. Through conversation and family time, parents can engage in critical responsive communications that are essential to their child’s healthy development.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Kristen Darling, Kaylor Garcia, Gayane Baziyants, Kim Alleyne, and Josh Sparrow for their time and insights shared in the development of this blog.